The Big Picture

Now imagine the pitter patter of little toddler feet bumbling down the hallway. A baby out on a journey! Everything about that journey is glittered by the newness and amazingness of everything around us. This carpet feels funny. That wall makes a sound when I touch it. But that feeling fades with time, unfailingly, as we begin to conquer the tasks that hadn’t once seemed so easy. To maintain that amazement state we crave to conquer more and more difficult tasks. And with time our mind aligns with the way we spend our time, climbing higher on the staircase than ever before or learning how to roll forward on the floor. A wonderful process blossoms as we make our way through a system designed to both challenge and represent our desire to continue learning. But for some reason this blossom’s loss of color begins when we decide in our minds to get a job. What is a job? Is it a socially decided upon way of converting human energy into economic energy? And economic energy for the sake of what? To provide us with more presents? Presents, we all know sometimes, just don’t cut it. What we’ve always been looking for lies behind the only place one would never consider looking for. The place behind the Irises is indicated by the entrance to the now. Only in the now do presents become presence, an all becomes a one.

 

The Mute One and The Deaf One

I honestly can’t tell you how the idea for this blog came to me exactly. It feels like it came from my friend James because we were talking about some deep and interesting things last night, but in reality I can’t say. As soon as the idea came into my head, it felt right. So here it is:

The Mute one and the Deaf one:

For a moment, I’d like you to think about your thoughts. What are they really? Well, we can be sure that sometimes they’re words, sometimes they’re pictures, and sometimes they’re feelings. Well for the sake of this blog, lets think of them just as words. In order for there to be words, there must be a speaker. And in order for there to be one who speaks, there must also be one who listens. Right?

DeafMute

So pretend there are two people in your head, sitting next to each other in equal sized chairs. Only the Deaf one has the ability to talk. So all the “spoken” thoughts you have can be attributed to the deaf one. It does all the talking. The Mute one on the other hand, can’t talk at all. Listening is its greatest skill. As the Deaf one rambles on and on, the Mute one listens intently. So intently in fact that it always hears exactly what the deaf one means, as opposed to what it actually says. “I’m so unhappy right now! I just want this thing I have to do to go away. Ahhhhh!!!!” the Deaf one may say. In which case the Mutes one actually hears, “I am resisting the present situation right now because I’m afraid of uncertainty.” Upon hearing this, it knows that this turmoil could be put to rest if the Deaf one would only embrace uncertainty. For it also knows that only out of uncertainty can creativity thrive. It knows that every painting ever made started with a blank canvas. And yet, there is no way for the Mute one to help the Deaf one. Without the ability to speak, what can there be done?

And so this process goes on, for our entire lives. Then one day, the Deaf one notices the Mute one is there, and voices it, “Wait a minute, you’ve been here all along? You’ve been listening this whole entire time?!? Wow, you must have all the answers to my questions… Do you? Oh gosh I hope you do. I’ve been struggling for so long, everyday in fact. I just want to know the answers to my questions!!! Please can you help me? What do I need to do? Can you answer all my questions for me?” In response, the Mute one smiles from ear to ear, and simply says nothing.

A thick silence lingers, like after a heavy rain. And for the first time the Deaf one stops speaking and starts listening. Being Deaf, how could it ever have thought to listen to silence? But there, in that moment, it finally hears what the Mute one has been saying all along. As if telepathically, the Deaf one all at once understands the answer to all of its questions. The whole time, the one place it never looked was behind the question itself. The way to answer all the unanswerable questions is to never ask the question in the first place. For the first time, they sit in peace, together. Over time, they form a stronger bond, learning to communicate despite their disabilities. Soon they realize they are partners in this life and begin working together. When stress arises, they tackle it together. When negativity creeps in, they work to turn it into positive and therefore neutralize it. And when wonderful, beautiful things happen, together they revel in the silence.

THE TAKEAWAY: I wrote this blog this way to illustrate the relationships between the thoughts we have and how to make sense of them. Everyone thinks differently, but in essence, we all have had the experiences of these internal battles. Often we don’t even recognize that they are happening. And so we have no idea why we feel the way we do. It has been said that traveling can be a catalyst for understanding these battles. “In losing yourself, you find your self.” Well the “self” that you lose is the Deaf one. When we are traveling in a new place, we are in utter awe of everything we see. We can’t apply labels to everything and assume it is something we already know. Everything is so new we are speechless. And so we are forced to listen and observe. This is the “self” that is found. This is the Mute one. However, upon returning from that trip, we often lose sight of what we’ve found. We go back to our routines, complain, and find fault in ourselves and others. The Deaf one turns up the chatter and the more talking we do, the less room there is for listening. We get so caught up in what we’re doing that we forget about  being.

Remember, we are human beings, not human doings.
So be it.

Connecting the Dots

This week’s lesson was about the story I wrote in my previous blog. After I finished telling the story in one of my Junior boy’s classes, they all sat in silence. With a serious look on my face, I leaned my back against the whiteboard and gazed without direction into the classroom of students. They stared back at me. Only their faces showed a medley of expressions. Some gazed back at me with hope in their eyes, others with confusion. But what got to me the most were those with a look of deep pessimism, because I could just tell that there in their young minds, they were about to give up on their dreams. Then, someone raised their hand.

“Teacher, what if I don’t know what I love?” He said this with a twinge of anger and sadness behind his voice.

“Here, let me show you. I’ll tell you how I got to where I am today,” I hurried over to the board, and began drawing my life’s path.

My path began when I was a little boy with a heightened awareness of emotions. Even as a four year old, my mother has told me that I would bother her whenever she looked sad, despite the fact that she would tell me she was fine. I would pull on the hem of her shirt until she told me what was wrong, and without knowing why, I felt better when she did.

All throughout school I had a lot of anger inside me. That anger came from the fact that I never knew why I was studying what they told me to study. I was forced to just accept it. So, when I got into high school, I did as little as I could. I had decided to go to a junior college where my high school grades would not matter, and from that p0int on high school was no longer a place for academics to me; it was a place to study people. I made many close friends and had deep conversations. I made mistakes and learned from them and watched others do the same. Whether I knew it or not, I was learning some invaluable lessons.

When I got to junior college, I decided to take a psychology class against my counselor’s advice. “You don’t need it at all. It will be a waste of your time,” he said to me. “That’s okay, I want to anyway.” Even then, I felt something guiding me. I used to read the textbook for that PSY 101 class for fun. I couldn’t put it down at times. I even remember going into the kitchen to share some of the things I had learned with my family. Once I had transfered to a four year university, I decided to minor in psychology against the advice of a counselor. I instantly fell deeper in love with the subject. I started reading books on the side about facial psychology, emotions, and body language. Even further still, my marketing classes included a lot of psychological lessons and college became like a playground to me.

Then, as graduation was approaching, I decided to come to Korea, against the advice of many friends and peers. “You’re crazy man. One year!? That’s a loooongggg time,” they would say. But no matter what they said, something was telling me to go. And it was the very same thing that told me not to listen to my teachers in high school, or my counselors in college. It was my heart telling me to go.

Since I have been here, all of my knowledge of psychology has been put to the test. I cannot tell you how many times I have been able to spot kids that needed someone to talk to and others that needed help and were too afraid to ask (in Korean culture, it is impolite to ask questions in class, so I have had to literally pull questions out of them). It feels as if I were meant to be here. This job has shown me the career path I am meant to take. I have been able to practice the same presentation 20 times a week. I have learned to perfect them. And that skill has given me the confidence to return to the US and, without fear, pursue a career as a public speaker.

THE TAKEAWAY: Steve Jobs‘s Stanford commencement speech has become one of the most watched speeches of all time for a very simple reason; everyone wants to believe that someday they will be extremely successful, look back, and be able to connect the dots. Well, I may not be extremely successful in terms of money or reputation, but in my mind I could not be more happy with where I am. I no longer fear the uncertainty that the future holds. I can see how my dots connect all the way back to my childhood, and, in this week’s class, I drew those dots on the board. I showed my students how they connected to bring me to where I am now, and how someday there will be more dots added to that line. “All you need to do is follow what you love,” I told them. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The Problem with Words

Thousands of years ago, the human race had so little to communicate that grunts and hand motions were sufficient. Now, our world has become so complicated that every year we have to add new words to the dictionary just to keep everyone up to speed. From the day we are born, we are learning new words everyday and never stop to question them. In fact, when we start learning them we are so young we don’t know that there is even a question to be asked. Well today I would like to ask you that question. What are words?

Recently I have been reading a book called The Fifth Agreement by Don Migel Ruiz and in it he introduces a very interesting paradigm. He explains the story of how we learn words, and how as we grow up we simply accept the definitions of those words because the people who have come before us teach us what they mean. In essence, we agree to believe in the meaning of those words. Then, as we grow up, we get so used to defining everything around us with words that we find a word for everything… we even make them up if need be. And soon enough, we don’t even know how to think about things without words, we must define everything  in order to maintain an understanding and control of the world around us. What’s worse is that we start to define ourselves using those words, and therefore limit our minds and personalities to their definitions.

For instance, as a young boy I often wrestled with the idea of whether I was smart or not. I knew what “smart” meant, but it was so subjective. The best measurement seemed to be school grades, but I felt like they were too limiting. As my grades improved, and I started to consider myself “smart,” I then learned of all the negative social aspects of being a “smart person.” People didn’t like you as much, some people made fun of you, and you were often alienated. So, then I decided I wasn’t smart. But that too gave me trouble because I didn’t want to be stupid… I KNEW it was bad to be stupid… Right?

Eventually I found a way to define myself using other words, bigger words, and yet they still didn’t seem to satisfy me. And it wasn’t until very recently that I realized that the most important ideas and concepts do not have words for them. Take, for instance, the word “God.” If you were to ask 10,000 people all over the world what the word “God” meant you would probably get a huge variety of answers. They could range from an all-knowing all-intelligent being, to an old man with a beard in the sky, to the very essence of the energy that is within all of us. And the strangest part is that, in a way, they would all be “right.”

THE TAKEAWAY: The point I think Don Migel Ruiz is trying to make is that it is impossible to understand the truth in any form, using words. Words are just symbols people have agreed upon to represent a thought. Words are just symbols to make communication between people easier. And yet, it is often words that cause the miscommunications, arguments, and wars between those very same people. So today, I am hoping to spread an awareness of the space between words and what they represent. If we could go through our lives without obsessively using words to define everything and everyone we see, then we might just find ourselves marveling at the beauty. After all, the most beautiful things this world has to offer really should leave us speechless

Artwork by my beautifully talented girlfriend

Passion Really Does Pay Off

When I walked into my second class today, instantly I could feel the carefully cultivated positivity being sucked out of me. There was something about this freshmen girl’s class that just wasn’t right. The usual chatter that preceded every other girls’ class was missing. There was something negative in there.

Rather than succumb to it, I tried something new that I have been doing lately. When a class is in a rather bad mood, I try to be as positive as possible to sway the balance. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. So I continued with the lesson about self motivation, which was entitled “How to be a Genius” because genius is a word they are very familiar with. The results were trivial at first, then slowed down toward the end like a car running out of gas. When I had finished the lesson there were probably only seven girls actually listening, seven sleeping, and the other ten with blank looks on their faces. I was disheartened to say the least, so I decided to be honest with them.

“Do you know that I only have four more months with you here? In four months, I will leave Korea and probably never see you again!” A few of the blank faces shifted. “I know, you’re life is not fair! You work too hard, and you are expected to know what you want to do in life right now and you are still so young! I didn’t know what I actually wanted to do until I came here and I am 24 years old!” There were no blank faces anymore. “In the time I have left, I want to help you as much as I can. So, I am going to teach you everything I know. Hopefully, something will help you choose your path in life… If you don’t want to listen, that’s you’re choice. I can’t help you if you don’t want to help yourself.”

After my CoTeacher Nora finished translating, there was a long silence. I sat down on a chair in front, facing the class, rested my chin on my hand and stared back at them with the same blank face they had given me. You see, in Korea, high school is by far the most stressful time in a person’s life. These days, students spend upwards of twelve hours a day at school, and sometimes even on Saturdays. They spend all that time studying for their SAT equivalent test, the SooNung. Korea takes this test so seriously, that on the day of examination, planes are not allowed to fly during school hours so as not to disturb the children. The score then determines what majors the student is allowed to choose from.  Those majors in turn decide what universities they are allowed to apply to. And literally their ENTIRE LIFE depends on what university they get into. So, most of them are forced to decide what they want to do in life at the age of… 14? 15? 17?

The bell rang and I simply waved goodbye. Slowly they shuffled their way out of the classroom. After all of them had left, I had started cleaning up and pushing chairs in when one of the girls, who had been listening the whole time, came back into the room. Even before she spoke I could feel the determination behind her words. Her grammar wasn’t very good but I could tell what she meant simply by the order of her words. If her English were perfect, what she said would have gone a little like this:

“Teacher, I want to say thank you. Before today, I chose a dream just because when I was growing up, adults always told me I had to know my dream. But now, I know that it’s okay if I don’t know what I want to do. If I don’t get into the best university in Korea, that’s okay. Now I know that what I learn is more important that where I learn it.”

Then, she did something that is very strange in Korean culture… She reached out and gave me a quick, awkward hug, as if she had never given one before, and walked away. As soon as she had turned the corner to leave, tears welled up in my eyes… I leaned my head against the nearest wall and cried tears of joy.

Thailand: Money, Happiness, and Spicy Food

For the past two weeks, I have been in Thailand with my girlfriend and some other friends. Our time there gave me a great perspective on where I live now, Korea, and where I have spent my entire life, California. For this blog, I’d like to address them individually:

Money:

For perspective, in Thailand, a one hour massage costs somewhere between $3 and $7. One plate of delicious food at a restaurant? $1-$2. A 12 hour first class, VIP bus ride that includes snacks on the bus, reclining seat, and a meal at a restaurant halfway through the ride? $8. Another perspective, taxi drivers in Bangkok are notorious for trying to overcharge tourists for the rides. With this in mind, when we arrived in Bangkok I approached the taxis near the airport and asked them how much it would cost to go to our hotel. Each of them shrugged, or looked straight ahead and answered my questions with, “Yes, I know. Let’s go.” To which I responded, “I asked you how much!?” I then proceeded to the next taxi. Once we found one that seemed to speak English better, he told us he would use the meter (the cheapest and safest option) and so we got in. He then proceeded to drive us down a couple streets, make U-turns, and continue in another direction until finally he stopped and said, “What was the name of your hotel again?” I showed him again, and he acknowledged, and took us there in 3 minutes. After ALLLL of that effort he went to, the taxi ride ended up costing $1.50, and I’m sure he felt accomplished.

On the island of Koh Samui, we spent about 5 days relaxing on the island and doing some of the usual tourist things. One evening we stopped in a Lebanese place for dinner, and I got into a conversation with the owner. I asked him how he liked living on the island and how business was going. He said very bad, and he wanted go home to Lebanon soon because he wasn’t making enough money. When business was good, he was able to save about 1000-1500 Thai Baht per month. That translates to about $30 or $40 per MONTH.

Taking all this into account, I realized the true value of the life I was lucky enough to be born into, and furthermore, the lives of my students here in Korea. The simple fact that our money carries weight around the world makes it POSSIBLE for us to travel. People who live in Thailand have to work twice as hard, for 5 times as long, just to take a short trip to a neighboring country. In fact, is it safe to say that many of them will never get to travel for this reason alone. By no means am I saying that anyone is any better than anyone else here, I will get into that next, but what I am saying is that if you haven’t thought about how lucky you are lately, maybe its time to think again.

Happiness:

Many times throughout the trip, I found myself compulsively feeling sorry for some of the people I saw. Houses made from slabs of metal. Virtually no earthly possessions. Two legs their only means of transportation. And yet, at the same time I also noticed something else. Whenever I smiled at someone, they smiled back from ear to ear. And then it dawned upon me: less money, less problems. The more money we have, the more things we seem to have to worry about. Mortgages, credit cards, interest, investments, college funds, health insurance, fancy cars, the newest TV, how we’re going to afford our next… blah blah blah. For many people in Thailand, there’s no reason to even think about these things, and therefore no stress. The most stressful decision of the day night often be what time to go to sleep, or how much to charge someone for something. But even that, by comparison, provides very little stress. With this in mind, it is actually rather sad to see the western influence on their society. Shopping malls with manikens wearing polo shirts with their collars flipped up. TV commercials with Jennifer Lopez in some sexy outfit boasting the “sexiest fragrance in the world.” It is almost sickening to think that such influences are moving this culture further and further away from the simple, happy place at which they started. We think we have it figured out, but if life is about happiness, it is clear who’s really got things figured out.

SPICY Food:

Spicy in Thailand takes on a whole new meaning. I’m not talking about your lips burning for a while after you eat, I’m talking about your stomach hurts when the peppers touch it. And its not just hearty foods that get the spice either. It’s salads, with fruit, that are some of the spiciest. While I was in Thailand, the spicy food reminded me of Mexican food, which of course was my main diet in San Diego. Whenever I would ask for extra hot sauce, I often received skeptical looks from the restaurant owners. Then I thought of the first question pretty much every Korean person I meet asks me here, “Can you eat Korean food?” And what they mean is, “Can you handle the spiciness?” It is almost as if spicy food is a sort of right of passage for outsiders to be accepted into these cultures. Why is that?

I think that it is because much of these cultures I’ve mentioned are centered around their food. In Mexico, for instance, families often take time off of work to have a meal together, eat their fill, then go back to work. Holidays are almost as much about the food as they are family. In Korea, you don’t even order your own dish when you go to a restaurant. The group orders something and everyone shares. I have almost forgotten the feeling of looking over a menu and choosing something. In Thailand, the culture is very similar. I often saw families and groups of people eating together, sharing various plates of food… Collectivist. What these cultures all share is a collectivist mindset – the we before the me. And yet, everyone cannot just instantly be considered a part of this collective, so there must be some sort of initiation… I guess if you can’t handle the heat, you better stay out of the collective kitchen.

THE TAKEAWAY: To this point, I have traveled to twelve different countries, or cultures rather, and seen many difference ways of living life. This trip, however, gave me a very different feeling… a much deeper and richer appreciation for what I have here in Korea, and waiting for me at home. Every way of life has its positives and negatives, of course, but in the end, it is up to the person who is living that life to choose their way. What will you choose?

Pai, Thailand

Give That Which You Wish to Receive

Think about this for a second… What is one thing that you give and receive each day, all day, everyday? ***Jeopardy Music*** You guessed it! Air! From the moment we are born we begin the practice of giving and receiving. Then, somewhere down the line, we realize that if we give our favorite toy to the wrong person, we don’t get it back. And since we don’t get it back, we stop giving all together. Then, at some point in our lives we find ourselves asking the question, “How come no one ever helps me out? Why can’t I get a break? Nothing good ever happens to me!”

Well, I think it’s time we change that mindset. Today, I started reading The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler and one of the chapters focused on this very concept. I felt compelled to write about this here because this echoed one of Deepak Chopra’s spiritual laws from his book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. Give that which you wish to receive. At first when I thought about this it seemed a little crazy. “So you mean, if I want money, I should give all my money away?” Raise your hand if that was your first thought too… Okay, you can put your hand down… People are probably staring at you.

All jokes aside, there is a lot more logic to this spiritual concept than meets the eye. Bad people are often surrounded by bad people, and good by good. People that love money over everything often find themselves with friends who have increasingly expensive cars and possessions. People that give their time to charities and the needy receive some of the greatest joys from the experience. And as counter-intuitive as it may seem, those who openly give their money to others will often receive such warm responses that those whom they help often return the gift to them in the form of friends, opportunities, experience, and joy – which are the basic reasons we want to make money anyway… right?

Since I have been here in Korea I have been a living example of this. When I came here I had no foundation of the language, little understanding of the culture, and almost no control over my life. For almost a month I took cold showers because I couldn’t read the buttons that turned the hot water on. With little else to do, I started pouring everything I had into helping everyone I could. Here, English is a commodity, one that is worth a lot of money. But instead of charging others for it, I gave my time to as many people as I could help… for free. In return, they taught me their language. In learning their language, I became a better teacher of English, and so on and so on.

When I first arrived at my school, it was a bleek, negative place. No one wanted to be here. The only thing I knew how to do was to emit as much positivity as I had inside me, and so I did. Soon people started to seem a little happier. My students were laughing more and sleeping less in class. I was getting to know students – receiving notes on my desk.

THE TAKEAWAY: I hope that my experience can serve as proof that anyone can do the same. As impossible as it may seem, whatever you wish to have in your life can be achieved. By giving the very thing that you hope to receive in the future, you are letting those around you, your God, the Universe, and everything in this world know what you want. If you give it, then you certainly deserve to receive it. So, give relentlessly and I assure you, you will live a life that is full.

What’s Your Favorite Food? – True Love

I don’t know about you but whenever someone asks me about my favorite food, I usually have to think for a second because I feel the need to justify my choice. “It really depends, but I guess I would say chocolate because if someone offered me chocolate, I would probably accept in almost any situation.” Now consider how you would answer that question: What’s your favorite food?

Now, for a moment, think about that food. I will use chocolate for the sake of explanation. Now, when I think about chocolate, I know exactly what it tastes like, what it smells like, how it feels in my mouth, what goes well with it and what doesn’t, and all the varying types of chocolate that exist out there. I also know that studies have shown the chocolate releases chemicals in the brain that bring about better mood and alertness in the body and mind. Sometimes, even, cacao chocolate can be very good for your health. So, I think that is it sufficient to say that I know enough about chocolate to say that I like everything about it. I know that at no point in my life am I going to change my mind and say, “Actually, I don’t like chocolate. Nevermind.” 

In contrast, there have also been foods I once loved, hot dogs for instance, that I changed my mind about when I realized what they were really made of. I used to enjoy them simply because they tasted good. But then when I learned all the junk that goes into them and the process involved, I saw what they were really doing to my body, and moved them down quite a few notches on my list of favorite foods. (No offense to you hot dog lovers out there)

This past weekend I spent three days straight with my girlfriend whom I’ve been waiting over 5 months to see. There was never a single second where we were not happy or out of sync with one another. And now today, after we are apart again, I realized why I know that this is true love and will never change. It’s just like the example above. I know everything about her – her personality, likes and dislikes, life goals, strengths and weaknesses, her facial expressions, her walk, her most commonly used words in speech, how she acts when she’s frustrated, how she deals with excitement/ anxiety/ stress/ sadness, her favorite food, her favorite book, her music style, her talents, and most of all, the person whom she loves more than anything. And when I take all these things into consideration, it is so easy to say, “Yes. That’s the girl I’m going to spend my life with. I’m never going to change my mind someday and say, ‘Nevermind. I don’t like all of that stuff.’ ” 

I think all too often we become so excited at the idea of love that we blind ourselves to things that we don’t want to see. And those things, in the future, become the root of the very problems that destroy that love, and turn it to evil. Sometimes, we choose not to ask certain questions, like what they are made of, and so we don’t really know how that person is affecting our life until its too late. I made these mistakes many times in my life before I met her. But it is only because I made those mistakes, that I was able to notice the real thing when it hit me in the nose (or heart, I guess you could say).

THE TAKEAWAY: Maybe you feel that you have it now, maybe you’re still looking for it, or maybe you’ve already made up your mind that it doesn’t exist.  Whatever the case, for a moment, think about how certain you are about your favorite food. Are you ever going to change your mind? Why not? If you have or are looking for a love that’s true, then consider how much you know about that person. If you don’t know enough to be sure, find out. If there are things that you try not to think about or ignore, address them with that person in an honest and constructive way. It is difficult to find, but only because of the process involved with getting there, not because of its rarity. If you want it bad enough, the Universe will conspire to make it happen.

Artwork by my beautifully talented girlfriend

It is my sincerest hope that writing about my experience with true love will help someone out there who reads this. The majority of songs, movies, television shows, books, and plays that have been created throughout the history of mankind have been about finding it in some way, and it is my hope that whatever I can write about it here will help someone… hopefully, you. 

The Wait is Over… Forever

Five months ago I left the love of my life and now she will be here in just two days.This past week, ironically enough, has felt like one of the most painful though. Everyday I woke up thinking about how many days were left, how many hours until I can see her again. Two months ago though? I woke up each morning and didn’t really think about the time left. It was just this lofty date that didn’t need to be worried about yet.

How is it possible that time could seem so slow and so fast at the same time? Looking back, I cannot believe it has been five months already. Looking forward, the next two days seem like an eternity. How much more useless can time be?

In an effort to channel all this energy into something positive, I have used my anxiousness and frustration to push myself further into the moment, to appreciate each and every second of each day, because whether she is here yet or not, this moment is a gift. Whenever I do this, I forget about the anxiety and, ironically enough, time seems to move faster. So the key to solving the problem of that anxiety was in the least likely place… inside of the “pain.”

THE TAKEAWAY: As I’m sure anyone who reads these knows, I am absolutely ecstatic that she is going to be here with me. We have looked forward to and talked about this for what seems like such a long time, and now it is here. But I felt it pertinent to use this experience to learn something. That something is what I hoped to share with you today. If you ever find yourself waiting for something, whether it is tomorrow or in six months, take a step back. What are you missing right now?  What beautiful things does life have waiting right in front of you for you to see? It really is the simple things in life that make it worth while. For me, today it is this blog. In two days, it is true loves gaze.

I Know You So Well… But We’ve Never Spoken

On Sunday morning I had a very strange feeling come over me. I’d like to share it with you.

For the last month and a half I have been playing basketball once a week with a tightly knit group of Korean men ranging in age from 24 to 60. Many of them went to the high school we play at, played college or professionally together, or have some family affiliations to the group. At about 12pm people slowly trickle in with their sports bags, smelling faintly of coffee and cigarettes, and with a sparkle of sleep still in their eye. For 15 minutes or so there is complete silence in the gym, except for shoes being tied and clothes ruffling. As I make eye contact with each of them, I smile, bow my head slightly (customary greeting here) and say “Anyanghaseo.” More people begin to arrive and the sound of basketballs hitting the floor fills my ears. A few of us at a time shoot around together, rebounding for one another and warming up as best we can. On this day, it was zero degrees Celsius.

I greet some of the younger players with single word sentences and playfully play defense on them to help them warm up. Usually by this time the sun is shining a bit brighter, and the eldest players start to organize teams for the day. Since the winning team of the day gets their lunch paid for by the losers, there is usually a few minutes of arguing over who gets who on their team. Then, we begin. At the opening tip off, I make eye contact with my point guard, a 45 year-old ex-KBA player, and quickly shoot a glance in the direction I want him to go. A split second later, the ball goes up in the air, I tip it exactly where my eyes showed him, and he drains the first 3-pointer of the game. “Perfect!” I thought.

Later, when I was resting in between games, a feeling settled onto me like a blanket fresh out of the dryer. I felt a warmth in my chest; a warmth akin to post-present-opening Christmas morning. It felt like family. But then I realized how strange that thought was, “I mean, how could I feel like family here? I have never said a single word to most of these guys.” As the games came to an end, we all made our way outside and shuffled into cars to head to lunch. With a steaming bowl of “Ja Jang Bap” in front of me, I looked around at the faces in the room. They were laughing, smiling, joking around with one another. If they met my gaze they would smile at me from ear to ear. And that’s when it dawned upon me…

THE TAKEAWAY: My entire life I have learned to associate the depth of a relationship with someone with how much I know about them personally. Haven’t we all? But on this day I realized, I knew almost nothing about most of these men, and yet, I felt so close to them. It was the smiles on their faces, their playfulness, and the content of their character that let me feel close to them. Those things are what make a person who they are. And those are what bring people together. Actions speak louder than words…